Does my website use cookies?

When starting with making a website compliant with the GDPR Laws with the cookies, usually the first question one might ask is "does my website use cookies?". Most people are unaware if their website uses cookies or even unaware of what cookies are and what they are used for.

The first step in making the website compliant for the GDPR laws related to the usage of the cookies is to identify the cookies used by your website. So how do you know if your website uses cookies?

Does your website have any of these technologies or features?

  • WordPress, or any other blog or content management system
  • Google Analytics, or any similar website analytics program
  • Google AdSense and/or AdWords
  • Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or other social media "like" buttons or plugins
  • A shopping basket/cart

All of these features use cookies. This article explains how you can easily find out what cookies are being used by your website.

How to audit your site for cookies

You can identify which cookies are being installed from any of the browsers that you are viewing the website on. Read on to know how you can identify the cookies using Chrome.

Step 1: switch on Chrome's Developer Tools

Open Chrome website and type in the URL that you want to check for the cookies. Preferably, visit the website using a private window. Next, right click on the browser window, and click on Inspect element to go to the Chrome develepor console.

Step 2: open up the "cookie" resources view

From the developer console, navigate to the Application tab. On this tab, from the storage section open the cookies resources view. This window will show all of the cookies that are installed by that webpage on the browser.

Viewing cookies on Chrome Developer tools

Viewing website cookies using Google Chrome Developer Tools

Step 3: browse ALL of your website pages

Now, to check all the cookies that the website installs on the browser, navigate through your website, visiting each page.

As you go you'll see the console in the bottom half of the screen fill up with cookie information. Take note as you go.

It's important not to simply check your homepage, as there may be cookies being set by plugins that only run on certain pages.

If you are using a WordPress website, you should also:

  • Login to WordPress (spot the additional cookies).
  • Leave a blog comment (you can always delete it later).
  • If you have such a feature, click 'like', 'tweet', etc - these also leave cookies.

There are plenty of other ways your site could leave cookies, this is by no means an exhaustive method. But it's a start, and for most content-only websites this should be enough.

Apart from checking on the developer console for the cookies, there are multiple tools and services that can help you list the cookies that are used by your website. One such service for checking the cookies on your website is CookieServe. All you need to do is enter the URL of the page to which you want to check for the cookies. It will list you all the cookies that are used by the page.

For more information on what cookies are being set, the following articles are recommended:

Types of Cookies

Now that you know what cookies are being set, you'll want to know what type of cookie they are and how long they are set for.

Depending on the duration they are stored on the browser, cookie types are either session (stored only whilst you browse the site) or persistent (stored even after you have left - e.g. 1 year).

Now, there are different types of cookies depending on the sources that these cookies are installed on. Cookies that your own website sets are called first party cookies. The cookies set by other websites who run content on your website are known as third-party cookies - for example, the cookies set by Facebook via your website if somebody 'likes' one of the posts on your site.

Strictly Necessary Cookies

Depending upon the purpose of the cookies, the cookies can be strictly necessary and non-necessary cookies. The cookies without which the website will fail to function properly are called as strictly necessary or simply necessary cookies.

The cookies which do not directly affect the functioning of the website, are called non-necessary cookies. They are mainly used for tracking the users' behavior on the website, analyzing the performance of the website, advertisement, etc.

Cookies that are considered strictly necessary:

  • Cookies to remember items in a shopping basket
  • Cookies providing essential security measures
  • Cookies used for quick loading and distribution of content

Cookies that are can be considered as non-necessary:

  • Google Analytics or similar software to analyze visitors
  • Cookies that remember user preferences
  • First and third party advertising cookies
  • Facebook like buttons

Summary

The cookies used by a website can be found easily and requires a very little time. You can directly check using the developer console of any of the major browsers. But there are multiple tools online that not only finds the cookies that are used by a webpage but also, helps categorize them and lets you know what they are used for. The method described in the article is quick and easy and it should cover very nearly all if not all of the cookies your site uses.

After you have found the cookies used on your website, the next step is to show the world how you comply with the GDPR Cookie Law.

Read this article for The Best Free and User-friendly WordPress Plugins for GDPR Cookie Compliance.

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